Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Inhabited by local sea gypsies Koh Surin hosts some of the oldest established reefs in Thailand, situated 60 Km North East of the Similans.
The two main islands; Koh Surin Nua and Koh Surin Tai are the largest in the Surin group. This Archipelago is much quieter than the Similan Islands. Surin is not only home to the local sea gypsies but also to a great range of wildlife. Here on the islands you may see; flying foxes, grey bellied squirrels, mouse deer, crab eating macaques and white bellied sea Eagles.
The Surin Islands have a large population of Hawksbill Turtles which use the local beaches for laying their eggs, false Killer Whales and Pilot Whales can be seen breaking the surface as they come up for air. Also Sailfish are another common sight here if your lucky you can usually see them as they jump clear of the water; sometimes only a few meters from the boat.
The dive sites around these waters consist of sloping reefs and submerged pinnacles and you can find a huge variety of soft and hard corals in mostly in pristine condition there are some stunning coral bommies, Which are home to many smaller marine creatures including Nudibranch, Cowries, Filter feeding crabs, Seahorses, various species of Pipefish and there is an abundance of feather-stars –many species are exclusive to Surin.
Giant Yellow edged, undulated and white eyed are just a few of the moray eel family you will encounter. The well camouflaged Frogfish (Anglerfish) are around, if you can spot them! The Scorpion fish sighted here include the common spot fin lionfish, raggy, bearded and reef stonefish- be wary where you put your hands. Bluefin Trevallies, which pursue immense schools of glass fish without mercy looking for their next snack. Looking out onto the sand, look out for the Blue Spotted Stingrays, Feather Tail Stingray and the more bizarre Garden Eels as they sway in the gentle current. Great, Pick-handle and Yellowtail Barracuda stalking prey is an impressive site. Black and White Tip Reef Sharks are frequently seen here as well as the odd Grey Reef shark. Snappers, Sweet-lips, Emperors, Groupers and of course the Dotty-backs all make Surin their home.
Koh Tachai, though a few kilometers away from the rest of the islands is also classed as part of the Surin group. Here around Koh Tachai, you will experience some of the best diving in the in the whole of Thailand (that is saying something). There are several dive sites around the island, but there is only one Dome -or Plateau as it is sometimes referred to. On this dive site you will see some serious action; making up the show here are; schools of metre long Yellow-tailed Barracudas, Giant and Blue Fin Trevally, as well as a wealth of reef fishes from; Parrotfish, Wrasse, Bannerfish, schools of Bat fish – who are intrigued by divers and may swim very close as if to check you out. Rainbow Runners, Snappers, large groups of Emperor Fish. Manta Rays and Whalesharks have been frequently sighted here; even shovel nose rays can occasionally be spotted resting on the sand.
Its is generally consider to be one of the most testing dive sites here as the current can pick up quite quickly it is important to listen to your dive master / instructor for the best times to dive this beautiful but occasionally ripping dive site. As you descend down the line it becomes apparent why this site is so revered by so many divers. The huge square in appearance boulders are striking and the sheer amount of fish attracted here will simply take your breath away, which brings me to the most important point, keep your eye on your air and your buddies as its deep, fast moving and very exciting. All these will contribute quickly in helping you suck your air dry and before you know it you are on your way up.
This dive site is so busy with aquatic life and so much to see that most divers will request this dive site again and again!
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
There are nine granite islands making up the stunning and unrivalled Similan Island group. They offer some of the best diving in South East Asia; the scenery below and above the water line has to be seen to be believed.
The islands cover 128 SQ KM and are 90kms North West of Phuket. Similan is national Marine Park and is covered with lush green tropical rainforests; with amazing granite rock formations, ideal for exploring under or above the water. Two of the islands; no. 4 & 8 have accommodation available, from bungalows to basic campsites with tents being made available at very reasonable prices.
The islands stretch from North to South. And on the East side of these islands there are stunning beaches and that gently slope off into the reefs below. The east side is protected from the South Westerly monsoon, which begins in May and ends in October –this is the best time to visit the area. The West side offers spectacular diving with huge granite boulders, Dramatic swim throughs and there depending on the time of of month some great drift dives.
The Similans offer a variety of diving with stunning drop offs to depths of 40M and beyond. These gentle sloping reefs are home to over two hundred known species of hard and soft coral. There are magnificent Gorgonian fans ideal for the Macro photographer. There such a diversity of marine life here, one could make hundred of dives and still not have seen everything that there is to see just what the Indian Ocean has to offer in its full splendour, colour and glory. There is also a lot of predatory action here, with the Blue Fin and Black Trevally hunting in packs, as well as the Yellow Tail, Chevron and Great Barracudas.
White Tip, Black Tip and Leopard sharks are the most common sharks sighted in these waters. Whilst Bamboo Nurse sharks and Kuhls Blue spotted stingrays can be seen resting on the sand during the day time.
The ever sought after and alien looking Manta Ray’s that glide through their realm with such magnificence are regular visitors here in these waters. The elusive whale-shark graces the Similans with their presence at certain times of the year which is a sight that will never to be forgotten by the diver.
For the keen eyed divers, there is an astounding variety of Nudibranches and Flat Worms, Seahorses, Ghostpipe Fish, Harlequin Shrimps, Frog fish, Scorpion fish and of course the Fairy Basslets.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Fishing with Boonsong – Mekong Catfish
After a hectic month at work all the while being under pressure to finish a construction project on time, my colleagues and I had decided to have a days fishing at Bungsamran Lake, we have always found it a great place to come and unwind; so it was agreed, that we deserved to treat ourselves to some world class Catfish action after the previous months grind.
I had telephoned Mr. Boonsoong’s to book his services as a guide a couple of days in advance, after telling him we wanted a day catching big catfish I left the choice of bungalows to him; letting him choose the best area of the lake in which to fish is always a good idea. I had explained to him, that we all had experience fishing for the smaller Mekong Catfish and we were prepared to sacrifice quantity for quality (As the larger Cats are much more difficult to catch than the smaller ones). A day of aerobic exercise was the last thing on our minds after the month we had just endured.
We arrived early on a Sunday morning, the central pier was busy, many locals had spent Saturday night fishing and the hardcore anglers where still eagerly watching their LED floats; the other not so dedicated fishermen were snoring away in their hammocks -dreaming about large Cats no doubt- waiting for the sound of the bite alarm to wake and spring them into action. Some of the locals use imported bite alarms, others rely on the clicker alarm that is built into most multiplier reels, some just divert the line around a small empty soda bottle and wait for it to fall indicating a bite.
I watched amused, as one of these makeshift bait alarm bottles fell and rolled along the floor, every sleeping angler jumped out of their hammock. Some anglers displaying amazing acrobatic abilities (sleeping in a hammock is easy; it’s the getting in and out of them that’s the difficult thing) only to find that it was down to the careless actions of a tired angler who picked up his rod without removing his line from the soda bottle.
As usual, Mr. Boonsong arrived on time and led us to Bungalow No7 which is situated in the far corner of the lake. He advised us on the recommended tackle along with specific details on hook sizes and leader lengths.
Between my colleagues and me we had set 3 rods up. We fished on the bottom (just less than 4m or 14 feet deep). With the anticipation of school children going to the fair, we wondered who would catch the first fish.
We had ordered a 30kg bag of rice bran which Boonsong quickly set to work on. He mixed coconut cream into the rice bran and added water from the lake and brought it to a moldable but fairly dry texture before packing onto the feeder and producing a bait ball which to me resembled a small basketball, far bigger than you reasonable expect to stay on such a small feeder. The distance we fished from the bungalow was approximately 6 meters (20 Feet) and casting such an enormous load was an art that Boonsong had mastered through years of practice.
We had been fishing for 45 minutes when the characteristic scream of one of the Accurate Boss Magnum multiplier spool alarm made us all jump to our feet, I had the fist bite on my rod. The line was leaving my reel at a frightening rate, I picked up my 5ft Tuna rod and slid the lever drag forward to engage the drag and gave a quick strike to set the hook.
I though I had hooked onto a passing train, I increased the drag to a level that I was comfortable with this the fish started to slow and carved a slow left hand curve towards the central pier and across the front of the other bungalows on our row. Mr. Boonsong apologized to the anglers in the other bungalows, he informed them of the hooked fish heading their way and would they kindly retrieved their lines to allow me to continue fighting the fish without risk of tangling.
Five minutes into the battle and I was beginning to feel the strain, I needed to keep my arms straight and lean back and use my body weight to counter the drag, instead of using the muscle power in my arms; this was a very powerful fish. At no time did it stop pulling it had taken over 150 meters (almost 500 feet) of line off the reel and was still running.
The battle of strength continued for 45 minutes (I can only describe it like trying to wrestle a bone from a Rottweiler) during which, I managed a couple of times to bring the Mekong Catfish within 2 meters (7 feet) of the landing net, before being stripped of even more line as it made a yet another dash for freedom.
Mr. Boonsong was offering advice and energy saving tips throughout the fight and towards the end of the 45 minute tangle I thankfully summoned the energy and will to continue and the rewards where a large Giant Mekong Catfish in the landing net.
The weighing scales were already set up and the handling mat was prepared to lay the fish on. 40 kilograms (88lbs) of healthy hard fighting and powerful Giant Mekong Catfish, it was not my biggest, but it certainly was the hardest fighting fish I have caught.
We went on that day to catch 6 Giant Mekong Catfish all over 30kg (66lbs). A fantastic days fishing was had by all, although not so relaxing, as Monday morning’s aches and pains were to testify to.
A Relaxing days fishing? Hardly.
By John (rmc) Tomlinson who also supplied the selection of photographs.
Significant contributions by Jason Butler
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Matt Butcher is thirty three years old and hails from Essex, UK. After quitting his job at London’s, Stansted International Airport, where he was employed as an operations controller for a handling company (a high stressed job with very little reward), Matt decided to leave England in search of a fresh challenge and to pursue his dream of becoming a diving instructor and it is in Thailand where he has been living and working for the last six years.
Matt first came on holiday to Thailand in 1993; he immediately fell in love with the country and its people vowing one day to return. Matt did return to Thailand in 2000, and it was on Phi Phi where he first leant to dive -Koh Phi Phi is situated in the Andaman Sea between Phuket and Koh Lanta. After discovering for himself the underwater delights that diving offered, he decided that he wanted to progress his dive skills and knowledge; and eventually after much studying became a full time Padi Open Water Diving Instructor.
Matt is one of the most famous Scuba divers in Thailand if not the whole of South East Asia, if only for his misfortune. Here in his very first interview; he tells us about living and working in Thailand, what it’s like to dive with huge Mantas Rays and Whalesharks, life as a videographer and his true love for Moray eels.
Hi Mat, why did you choose Phi Phi Island as the place where you would learn to dive, there must be closer places to home than Thailand?
I chose Phi because it is a great place to dive as well as a great holiday destination. The water temp is always around 30 degrees; there are lots to see like Sharks, Turtles, and other interesting stuff. Phi Phi is also a nice place to live and work, it’s has a small community where there is always something going on, it’s also a great place to party. I did my open water and advanced courses on Phi Phi, then travelled to Koh Tao for my rescue and Divemaster courses. As far as the quality of diving goes Phi Phi wins hands down, there is just much to see.
Have you ever dived in the UK? If not, why not?
No. The main reason, I guess, is that I’m not too keen on the idea of diving in cold water. I like coral reefs, colorful fish, good visibility, and being able to dive in just a pair of board shorts. I’ve never used a dry suit and don’t really fancy it. Saying that, maybe one day I wouldn’t mind trying some hardcore ice diving.
So, you really do not think you will be returning back to work in England any time soon then?
It’s very unlikely. Two weeks a year in the UK is enough for me. Thailand’s my home these days and I’m happy here; I live here with my Thai girlfriend and our young daughter.
A4: Working on Phi Phi is great, everything is close by and everyone knows everyone. Workers get discounts in bars and restaurants, and life is generally good. I like the fact there are no roads, cars, or motorbikes. The downside about staying on Phi Phi is that it is getting quite expensive, especially when it comes to renting rooms and bungalows. For the monthly rent you pay on Phi Phi for a basic room with a bed and a fan, you could easily get a two or three bedroom house in Phuket, and Phuket isn’t exactly cheap. It was after The Beach was filmed that prices shot up, people just became too greedy.
Have you worked anywhere else in Thailand, if so where?
I am very lucky as my job takes me to the Similans islands and Phuket dive sites.
Phuket, wow, what’s the diving like there?
The diving is surprisingly good. I was pleasantly surprised when I first dived in Phuket after years on Phi Phi. The visibility is usually good, and we are always seeing cool stuff like Manta Rays at Racha Noi.
Have the recent problems at Bangkok airport affected tourism where you are?
Yes, it’s pretty quite at moment. I just hope they can sort out the political problems soon. It seems that which ever side is elected the other side cannot accept it and they throw their toys out of their cots and start causing trouble. It has to stop. If some people cannot accept a democratically elected government, elected by a majority, maybe they should take the privilege away, though where that may lead to is a scary thought.
You mentioned the Similan Islands before, where exactly are they?
They are about six hours north of Phuket by boat. Or like many do, you can travel by bus to Khao Lak (a beautiful beach resort 50 minutes north of Phuket International airport) from there you go to Tab la mo port and the journey is a bout 2 hours in a speed boat.
Apparently these are some of the best dive sites in the world; can you elaborate on them please?
The great thing about the Similans is that it’s a protected marine park. The visibility is usually excellent, and there are some pristine coral reefs which teem with fish. There’s also a huge variety of dive sites to choose from, some gently sloping coral reefs, some with massive boulder formations.
What is your favorite dive site and why?
I like a lot of them. Elephant Head Rock is cool, it’s easy to find Sharks there; well it is if you know where to look. Three Trees has some great corals and a lot of fish, but my favorite sites are just north of the Similans, like Koh Bon, I have had some wicked dives with Mantas Rays there, and Richelieu Rock (the most famous dive site in Thailand), as I’ve seen quite a few Whalesharks there.
So now you have become a videographer? You must have some amazing footage.
Yeah I’ve got a few external drives full of good stuff.
What is your favorite sea creature and why?
Probably Manta Rays, they always take my breath away when I see them gliding past they are just so graceful, the boat is always buzzing after a Manta sighting.
Everybody who comes to dive in Thailand wants to see a Whaleshark or Manta Ray how many have you seen?
Is it true you once had a close encounter with a Moray Eel, what happened?
There used to be a famous Moray called Scarface at East of Eden in the Similans and a lot of instructors and dive guides would take food down for her, and feed her in front of their guests. I was careless one day, and wasn’t paying attention when I was removing food from a plastic bag. Scarface came around behind me, could smell the food, and accidentally latched onto my thumb. I tried to prize her jaws open and get her off me but it was no good. Within seconds there was a sickening popping sound and my thumb was bitten clean off. She swam away and that was the last I saw of my thumb. It was my fault, firstly for feeding a wild animal, and secondly for being careless. My dive buddy Bex was holding my camera and managed to get some footage of it happening.
You mean you have video footage of it? Can you tell us about the operation?
After several months when the wound healed and the Doctors were happy that there was no infection, I flew up to one of the best hospitals in Bangkok; where a specialist hand micro surgeon amputated one of my second toes and attached it to my hand. In an operation which lasted over six hours, he connected all the nerves, blood vessels, and tendons. Now I have a new thumb, which is almost as good as the old one. I can feel it, and move it like a real thumb.
Did it not put you off diving?
Not at all, I was back in the water less that a month after having the operation. Why would it put me off? It was an accident.
How do other people react when you tell them the story?
These days I don’t mention it, unless someone asks. They’re usually quite amazed at how normal my toe / thumb looks.
I heard this story in a dive shop in Koh Tao (another Thai Island) how do you deal with the fame?
It’s not something to be proud of really, and it’s not really fame. Not many people know it was me, and I like to keep it that way.
Would you feed Moray Eels again or have you learnt your lesson?
Well, I used to love feeding her, but no, I wouldn’t do it again. It’s not really a good idea to feed marine life, it’s not natural, and with animals like Morays and Sharks especially, they can start associating scuba divers with food. Accidents can happen.
Q20: When and where will your next dive be?
My next dives will be tomorrow at Koh Doc Mai and Anemone Reef near Phuket. I head up to the Similans in a few days for a week or so.
Well good luck Matt, take care and Thank you for talking to us!
Monday, December 29, 2008
He works locally as a technician for a Japanese company, but spends most of his free time taming the huge monsters of Lake Bungsamran; and it is here, where this unassuming man loves nothing more than to help less experienced anglers realize their dream of catching the fish of a life time.
We recently caught up with him lakeside and asked him about his fishing experiences; so here translated into English, he speaks candidly and with typical Thai humour about the sport he loves and also offers a few tips for those interested in fishing the freshwater's of Thailand.
Q1: I guess people ask you this question all the time: what got you interested in fishing in the first place?
My first experience with a rod and reel was on a small lake in Bangkok; I went along with a small group of friends.
Q2: So far, what is your record catch -and its weight- to date and what species was it?
A Mekong Catfish, weighing in at 90 kg – it was caught at Banja Lake, again around Bangkok.
Q3: Dare we ask, what is your secret to catching such huge specimens?
No secret really, just perseverance and learning from others which leads to overall experience.
Q4: There are many different types of fishing around Bangkok: i.e. Spinning, Fly fishing, and Specimen hunting to name but a few; which do you prefer and why?
Previously, I liked the big Catfish (specimen hunting) just for the shear power of the fight; but as time goes by, I have started to enjoy all sport fishing. But, I do enjoy fishing for Barramundi and Giant Snakehead whenever possible.
Q5: Although relatively small compared to the Giant Siamese carp and Mehkong catfish the Barramundi offers great sport to the fisherman; where can these fish be caught in Bangkok and what baits should one be used?
We go to Bor Num Lake for Barramundi fishing, the skill required and catch rate there is of equal balance –unlike some venues. There are other far more expensive places around, that require little skill and they actually guarantee a fish a minute; I think it takes away some enjoyment.
Q6: Can you tell us what other species of fish there are to catch here?
There are so many, I can not think of them all – I have seen around 25 kinds maybe more; others say that Bungsamran has as many as 40 different species of fishes.
Q7: It may come as a surprise to the foreign angler, to learn of the many varieties of freshwater fish here. Has there been a noticeable increase in tourists fishing here?
More and more tourists are coming here every year. If I think back 10 years ago, the lake was only half the size to what it is now, from the pier to the bungalows the left hand side was added later. There was only Carp and Striped Catfish, along with a few Mekong Catfish making up the numbers. At this time Bungsamran was renowned for its big Siamese Giant Carp and this was the draw for the local specimen hunters.
Q8: We have seen you help a couple of farangs (foreigners) here today, showing them some different techniques; what are your thoughts on farangs who visit Thailand for the coarse fishing?
A fisherman is a fisherman; it does not matter where they come from. I like to help other anglers, because I remember how difficult it was to find help when I was new to the sport.
Q9: A lot of farangs may be a little concerned about coming to Thailand because of the recent troubles, what are your feelings on this?
Everyone I know is going about their lives and business as usual – we only know there is a political problem when we see the news – the fish don’t seem to notice at all!
Q10: Would you recommend to tourists who are wishing to come here to fish, that they bring their own equipment or is rental gear available?
Rental gear is available here, a tried and tested set up that will be capable of landing a 100kg Mekong catfish is made available -with the correct techniques of course. I would not recommend bringing your own equipment on your first visit. I am sure it would raise a few eyebrows if I brought my 5ft jigging rod and Accurate Boss Magnum Multiplier Reel loaded with 80lb braid to a local UK carp lake.
Q11: There are several ‘farang’ tour operators offering fishing trips to Thailand, would you recommend their services or is it possible for the tourist to go it alone?
Up to the visitor, if you usually go it alone and are confident you can drive here or order a taxi then come without a tour company, but I do recommend a Guide for the fishing.
Q12: Fishing here is very popular amongst the locals, are there any competitions available to enter?
We have fishing competitions all over Bangkok and surrounding areas though none are actually held here at Bungsamran Lake.
Q13: Is fishing popular amongst Thai ladies too?
No, there are not many female anglers, but I have seen a female fishing guide with one of the Fishing Tour companies, Eddies I think.
Q14: Fishing has become trendy with kids in many parts of the world, would you say the same about Thai children too?
Yes, I think it would be the same all over the world, though it does appeal to boys more than girls. I have seen an increase here too, with more kids coming with their fathers for a days fishing.
Q15: Is there any recommendations or advice you would like to offer the angling tourist coming here for the first time?
Come to Bungsamran Lake and watch the others fish for an hour, just to get the feel for the place. If you want to fish, hire a local Guide to help you (they are not expensive and are invaluable, especially for your first time here).
Thank you again for your time Khun Nui, good luck and tight lines.